Des Moines Chess Camp 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

For me there could have been no better way to celebrate my 20th birthday than to enjoy teaching chess at the 2014 Des Moines Chess Camp!  Chess is my all-time favorite game, invigorating the mind and challenging it to ever deeper thought.  So, when Hank Anzis, who introduced me to tournament chess years ago and blogs at Broken Pawn, asked if I'd be interested in teaching at the chess camp again, I enthusiastically agreed!  
The first day of camp started at 10:00 A.M.  While Frank started the day for the fun class by teaching how to avoid Scholar's Mate, I taught the serious class by going over three of my own chess games and pointing out the mistakes and good moves of both sides.  Below are a few tips I gave the students, which all chess players would do well to heed.

The national standard for road crews seems to be 1 man works while 2 watch, but a good boss has all of his/her employees working.  It is important that you be a good boss of all your chess pieces.  They all need to be actively involved in the game, working as a team on the most powerful squares available.  If you let a third of your pieces stand by the side of the road watching the other workers do battle, they will be bored, unhappy pieces, and you are most likely going to lose.  I feel sorry for any chess pieces who have a boss who ignores them and leaves them suffocating in prisons hid behind pawns in a corner of the board. 
Don't give up by making surrender moves!  Surrender moves are when a player makes a move that is worthless and not essential to the position because he doesn't know what to do (like unnecessarily scooting the king over one square or moving a pawn for no reason).  Basically this tells his opponent, "I give up!  Why do I have to move?  Do whatever you want!"  Surrender moves are also bad moves made in desperation when one falls into an opponent's trap, resigning to one's fate because there seems to be no way out.  When you are in a decisive position spend your time thinking until you can find an escape route.  Longfellow once wrote a poem about a coward who stood in front of a castle and said, "Ah, this is too strong; I can never break into it!"  Then a Roman hero came along and said, "I'll find a way or make it!"  That has to be your attitude!

I also mentioned the importance of developing pieces and not wrecking one's own castle, understanding strong vs weak threats, and taking advantage of any gifts your opponent gives.  The students were very bright, catching on easily to everything and often anticipating the right move before it was made.  

After my demo games, the puzzle specialist of the class (Mr. Brains) showed me a few mind-boggling puzzles he had memorized.  I'm not brilliant when it comes to puzzles, so I was glad when Jose rescued me and gave him a puzzle to think about.  The students voted to play practice games with each other, and I played a game with one of them until it was time for lunch.
After lunch, Jose taught the fun class (the beginners) while Hank taught the serious class.  Frank and I signed certificates, took photos, and helped watch the classes to make sure everyone behaved.  Jose played a simul with the beginners with a 10 minute time control.  It was impressive, and he really got a workout running from board to board!

We ended the day with a 4-way tandem simul where Hank, Jose, Frank, and I each took turns playing a move on all of the students' boards.  That was tough as the boards were completely different each time we got back to them.  Additionally, the beginners each got queen odds.  All the students could have 3 passes, and if we didn't finish the games by 4 pm it was considered a forfeit win for them.  Talk about the cards being stacked against us!  We won most of the games, but a few clever students (and Papa) did manage to beat us. 

Day 2 started with Hank teaching the fun class and Jose the advanced class.  When students were on the ball, Hank would throw them a ball, or when they saw things clearly, they'd get a huge pair of glasses or be given other prizes he had bought for them at a dollar store.  I think the prizes were a huge hit; everyone seemed delighted.

After lunch, I taught the fun class how to avoid and how to give back rank checkmates.  They were an exceptionally intelligent and well-behaved class this year and a pleasure to teach.

Everyone played practice games, and Jose and I started teaching a couple children who had never played bughouse before to prepare them for the bughouse tournament.  

I was thoroughly surprised when Hank brought out a chocolate cake his wife Kathy had made for my birthday!  Everyone sang to me--so kind!  Julia, the nurse whose smile and watchful eye brightens each camp, served the cake.  It was delectably moist with a perfectly creamy and delicious frosting.  Thank you Hank and Kathy for the wonderful and thoughtful treat!

The bughouse tournament started, and I got to play partnered to a quick-witted, cheerful student who had never played before the camp.  She proved to be an ideal partner; she played fast, always hit the clock, took and asked for advice, and made good moves.  We won every 2 game match except for one that we drew against Mr. Brains and his quick-thinking partner, winning one game and losing the other.
Everyone received certificates of successful completion of the camp, and we took photos together.  Of the three years I have taught at the camp, I would vote this years' class the best and most well behaved.  The location, a church, was a huge improvement from last year.  I thoroughly enjoyed teaching; thanks to Hank Anzis for inviting me!

As the camp neared its close a student told me, "I don't want the camp to end; I want it to last forever!"  That's exactly how I felt...but then she added, "Well, maybe not forever, I do have to start school soon."


  1. How fun for you to be able to teach something that you so thoroughly enjoy :) I must admit that I have never quite understood Chess, but my six year old son seems very interested in it.

    Have a great week! Hugs to you!

  2. I like your team and from your pictures can see that you enjoyed the most :)) hehehe...
    Have a super day darling. God bless you!!! xxx

  3. I agree that this year's group of campers were extremely smart and well-behaved. Thanks for helping with the camp again this year, Bethany. The kids really look forward to interacting with you and you have a great knack for connecting with them. Many of these kids really look forward to seeing you at the camp and your bughouse partner will never forget partnering with you for a first place finish! I'm glad you had a Happy Birthday!

  4. It's great that you could have spent your birthday doing something you really love! By the pictures it looks like it was a lot of fun! I've never participated in a chess competition before, but it looks really interesting!

  5. Thanks Stephanie! Awesome that your son finds chess interesting; 5-6 years old is the best time to learn how to play!

    Thanks Liuba, Lee, and Hank! It was a lot of fun, and I think I looked forward to the camp as much as the children did!

    Yes, Cryslyn, it is very interesting! Thanks!

  6. I LOVED your description of chess.....I don't know how to play but I think I would enjoy learning!! That is a sweet picture of you!!